…is simply described as “the convergence of communications systems such as telephony, email and instant messaging onto a common platform”.
Traditionally an organisation has used a number of systems and device to communicate internally and externally with partner organisations. Devices and systems used included;
- Instant messaging systems
- Video conferencing
- Customer relationship management systems (CRM)
The goal of a unified communications solution is to unite all real time communications systems into a simple management umbrella. This management umbrella could be as simple as using an email client such as Microsoft Outlook to manage customer records via the CRM system hold contact list which are dialled using voice over IP telephony from a single click through to instant messaging in a controlled environment externally.
Traditionally unified communications solutions were developed and deployed by telephony providers as part of a voice over IP solution. With advances in software and messaging systems this then evolved to incorporate instant messaging and fax to email services.
Today unified communications solutions encompass nearly any real time communication medium and deliver to any business of any size a complete cloud computing communications system that can be instantly deployed onto any internet compatible device.
In today’s office environment we all use a plethora of devices this can range from a mobile device such as a Blackberry or iPhone through to tablet PC’s and traditional PC systems. Moving your communications to a cloud based unified communications solution enables all these devices to work in harmony with the only constraint being internet access availability.
Here are some advantages to using unified communications:
Enhanced Customer Service
Using a unified communications solution lets you manage customer interaction from one central location. In terms of customer service this provides choice in terms of how the customer interacts with your business and how your business manages this interaction in terms of contact management.
Support for off-the-shelf software and systems
Today many cloud providers ranging from sales management applications through to online productivity suites such as Office365 provides a complete unified solution. With the popularity amongst cloud providers of systems such as Microsoft Exchange or the Lync communications solution, customer choice is expanded exponentially to thousands of potential providers.
Enabling your unified communications solution can be as simple as selecting the modules you require and selection or migration of telephone numbers to the provider. All your access devices can then be configured to work with your new system.
Using a cloud computing model to provide unified communications functions allows your organisation to reap the benefits of flexible billing, instant deployment and access to cost-effective management of calls.
In the event of a loss of service at one of your offices a simple configuration change will allow you to route your calls to any other office or device ensuring business continuity.
Reduce Travel Related Costs
Interactive technology such as web and video conferencing allows for online meetings and presentations to potential customers or partners in real time without the need to attend site. If your team is geographically dispersed interactive team meetings and white boards are easily achievable within a unified solution.
Use instant messaging and customer relationship systems to collaborate and communicate on internal projects without the need for long emails or telephone calls. Using a unified communication solution will also reduce costs in terms of call charges between staff members as this would be routed using the internet.
Deploy an Enterprise Grade Solution
Before cloud computing, companies wish to deploy unified communications solutions had to invest in hardware and software licensing and integration making the entry barrier in terms of cost prohibitive for the SMB sector. Using the cloud computing model to provide your unified communications will deliver an amazing solution at a fraction of the cost of deployment on-premise.
Unify your IT Systems
Mobile, tablet, Email, telephony, customer management, faxes, SMS all these systems and more can be unified into a single powerful system reducing IT costs and providing a seamless platform.
Make sure you keep an eye out for the following issues that could occur:
Suitability of Existing Hardware
Do your IP Phones and systems support all the features of your potential vendors unified communications platform? Always check compatibility of systems before subscribing to a service.
When accessing cloud systems and sending and receiving VOIP calls it is imperative to check your connectivity is capable of supporting your business goals.
When selecting a provider always investigate whether that decision will cause your communications management technology to be locked in to the vendor’s platform. Ask your provider about their platform what open standards are used and if their system is based on proprietary technology.
Whilst core modules such as telephony are generally set at a fixed price always check hidden costs items such as storage or perhaps usage charges for items such as video conferencing or web presentations. Always ensure your provider clearly states these costs and outlines them clearly in any signed service order.
What is the providers stated support policy and what is the policy scope in terms of demarcation of responsibility? Always check the terms and conditions of support before subscribing to any services.
Provider data policies
Check if your organisation is constrained by regulation concerning data storage locations and jurisdictions. Also in the event of the provider being unable to trade confirm there is a data escrow agreement in place which allows you to restore your data at another provider.
Does the proposed provider contractually upgrade systems during the lifetime of your contract?
Is the provider infrastructure redundant across multiple data centres and connections? Do they have a solid business continuity plan in the event of a disaster? Ask for details of the system deployment.
At Compare the Cloud, we’re here to help you get started and to identify suitable technology partners to help with your deployment. Take a few minutes to tell us about your company in our Cloud Discovery Q&A, and we’ll present you with some informed options – and help you take full advantage of Cloud Computing and selecting a cloud unified communications provider.
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